Langford, Hoosiers Shake Off Illini To Improve To 3-0 In Big Ten Play

At least it wasn’t another one-score game.

Despite some sloppy play during the game’s first 11 minutes, the Indiana Hoosiers were able to enforce their will defensively during the final nine minutes of the first half and used Romeo Langford’s career-high 28 points to get past a feisty Illinois Fighting Illini team 73-65 on Thursday night.

The Hoosiers [12-2 (3-0)] fell behind 25-15 halfway through the opening half as the Illini used a frantic pace and made eight of the team’s first 13 shots to take control of the game early. Yet the offense and pace would flipped the other way for the remainder of the game as the Hoosiers clamped down on defense and took the ball to the basket instead of settling for long jump shots.

In fact, the Hoosiers’ defense was so suffocating that it forced the Illini to commit five shot clock violations during the final 30 minutes of the game and six in total. Indiana’s ability to prevent Illinois from getting up shots was not just the result of inspired play, but instead was the payoff of many tough practices.

“We work very, very hard in practice on 12-seconds-or-less-on-the-clock defense and at the end of the day you sort of know what you’re going to be dealing with,” said Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller. “You’re going to deal with high ball screens. You’re going to deal with some type of an action where you’re picking and popping; and for us we work on it every day.”

While the Fighting Illini [4-10 (0-3)] offense was blanketed, their defense was assaulted by Langford’s strong drives to the basket, especially in the second half where the freshman scored 19 of his career-high 28 points, including IU’s first 10 points after halftime.

“We knew going into the game, (the Illini) are a real aggressive team, so they like to play the passing lane. So that’s going to leave open driving lanes,” said Langford. “When we had that little slump scoring on the offensive end, I felt we weren’t driving. So when I got back into the game, Coach (Miller) told me I needed to get more aggressive to get us going, and that’s just what I did.”

Coming off his historic triple-double against Jacksonville, Juwan Morgan continued to fill up the stat sheet as he recorded his sixth double-double of the season, contributing 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Hoosiers.

Both Langford and Morgan will need to perform as well as they did Thursday, if not better, for the Hoosiers to have a chance on Sunday when they travel to Ann Arbor to face unbeaten Michigan.

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Freshmen Smith And Durham Step Up In 78-68 Win Over Illinois

Justin Smith and Aljami Durham have had very up-and-down freshmen seasons, sometimes providing a huge spark and other times being non-factors.

On Wednesday night, both players were at their best as they helped the Indiana Hoosiers beat the Illinois Fighting Illini 78-68 as the duo helped counter two separate runs by the Illini when the Hoosiers needed someone to step up.

The first time happened in the first half when Illinois jumped out to a 9-6 lead over the first four minutes of the game. Smith would score the Hoosiers’ next eight points as Indiana tied the game up at 14-14. After that, Durham made back-to-back baskets, one of them from three, to push the Hoosiers’ lead to 19-14 and force an Illinois timeout.

The second time came in the second half when the Illini cut a 10-point halftime deficit down to 47-45 with 14 minutes left. Smith and Durham scored 10 of the Hoosiers’ next 12 points as IU pushed the lead to 59-51 and never let Illinois get within four points for the rest of the game.

“Freshmen, they go through ups and downs. That’s what a freshman season is,” said IU coach Archie Miller. “But moments like tonight, (a) hard-fought win where guys make winning plays, they stick with you — that’s how you learn how to win.”

The freshmen duo weren’t the only ones who helped Indiana get above .500 in Big Ten play for the first time in a month. Josh Newkirk had 11 crucial points, including a huge three-pointer during Illinois’ run to start the second half to help the Hoosiers stay ahead before Smith and Durham went to work.

“It’s nice to have him play the amount of minutes he did (21 minutes) and also put up some points on the board and also make some crucial shots for us,” said Miller.

Also, despite not scoring as much as he usually does, Juwan Morgan played a huge role as he played amazing defense and in the process really stuffed the stat sheet as he finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, and 5 blocks.

To Miller it was just another day of Morgan carrying the team.

“If he’s not a first-team, all-conference member maybe it’s because of our record. But I have a hard time imagining there’s an impactful player on a team that’s done as much as him for us.”

The Hoosiers now must go on the road for their next two games, starting with a trip to Iowa on Saturday. But they’ll enter that stretch now having won three games in a row by 10+ points.

Clock Strikes Midnight On Illinois and Nebraska (B1G Tournament Recap Day 3)

So far during the Big Ten Tournament, the main story has been the upsets as both Wednesday winners also won on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals. Sadly, #11 Nebraska and #12 Illinois saw their chances at a magical championship run end on Friday. While Michigan is still in the tournament for everyone wanting to root for an underdog, the Wolverines may get into the NCAA Tournament without winning the Big Ten Tournament, which was not the case for the Cornhuskers or the Illini.


#8 Michigan 72, #1 Indiana 69

After playing a mediocre game against Northwestern, Michigan came to play on Friday as a back-and-forth contest (no team led by more than six points) ended with the pendulum swinging in the Wolverines’ favor as a Kameron Chatman corner three-pointer with just 0.2 seconds left gave Michigan a 72-69 win over number one seed Indiana.

Michigan had missed all 10 of its second half three-point attempts, but made its last two when the team needed them most. After Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell split a pair of free throws, Zak Irvin drove the basketball and kicked it out to Duncan Robinson who made a three-pointer to tie the game at 69 with 46 seconds remaining. He was 0 for 5 before he hit the game-tying shot from the right corner.

Then Michigan was gifted the ball on an OG Anunoby turnover when he tried to drive to the basket with 21 seconds left. It was the only time Anunoby played like a freshman as the rest of the game he did everything to keep Indiana hanging with the Wolverines, finishing with 13 points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks.

Derrick Walton Jr. again failed to make a field goal but finished with 12 assists, none bigger than his great pass to Chatman in the left corner for the game-winner. Irvin led the Wolverines with 17 points while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 15 points. The Hoosiers were led by Troy Williams who finished with 16 points. Thomas Bryant scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Ferrell added 14 points and eight assists.


#4 Purdue 89, #12 Illinois 58

Having lost to them earlier in the season, Purdue did not take Illinois as lightly as Iowa might have done. Add that with a thirst for revenge and the Boilermakers steamrolled the Illini 89-58 to advance to the Big Ten semifinals.

The Illini won their first two games of the Big Ten Tournament because of their explosive three-point shooting, but the long ball didn’t fall on Friday as Illinois hit only 4 of 18 from deep. Meanwhile the Purdue pounded the Illini into submission by grabbing 42 rebounds to Illinois’ 24.

The Boilkermakers received great contributions from all three of their talented big men. Isaac Haas led the team with 16 points, Caleb Swanigan recorded a double-double (11 points and 12 rebounds) and A.J. Hammons just missed on another double-double (10 points and eight rebounds). The Illini were led by Maverick Morgan (17 points) and Malcolm Hill (16 points).


#2 Michigan State 81 #7 Ohio State 54

Unlike their archrivals (Michigan), the Ohio State Buckeyes saw their NCAA Tournament chances end gruesomely as the Michigan State Spartans destroyed them 81-54. Big Ten Player of the Year Denzel Valentine was his usual magnificent self as he fell just short of a triple-double finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.

The Buckeyes had a lot of things go wrong but probably the biggest was outside shooting the team went 1 of 11 from deep. They also went to the free throw line 11 times after going there 00 times against Penn State.

JaQuan Lyle was the only Buckeye to score in double-figures but only scored 10 points and also had five turnovers. Deyonta Davis had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Spartans as Tom Izzo’s team continues its quest for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.


#3 Maryland 97, #11 Nebraska 86

Nebraska’s quest for five wins in five days ended on Friday when the Cornhuskers lost to Maryland 97-86 but not before they made one last charge. Down by as many as 25 points with 15:46 left in the second half, the Cornhuskers cut it to 92-86 with 1:40 remaining but back-to-back fouls let Maryland end a 18-4 run and hold on to advance to the conference semifinals.

The Terrapins built a huge lead early thanks to pinpoint three-point shooting. Maryland shot 90.0% (9 of 10) from behind the arc and 71.4% overall in the first half. Jake Layman (who scored a game-high 26 points) made 6 of 9 from deep while Melo Trimble made 4 of 8 from long-range.

Trimble finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. Diamond Stone also played well, adding 23 points and eight rebounds. For Nebraska, Andrew White III scored 25 points while Shavon Shields poured in 19 points in his last Big Ten game.


Saturday’s Games:

#8 Michigan vs #4 Purdue – 1pm EST (CBS)

#2 Michigan State vs #3 Maryland – 3:30pm (CBS)

Former Indiana High Schoolers Shine In Indianapolis (B1G Tournament Recap Day 2)

Because there are so many good basketball recruits in the state of Indiana, many of the top colleges scout area and thus players are seen playing with teams all around the country. That is especially true of Big Ten schools as their proximity to the state of Indiana makes the player feel like they are never too far away from home.

Well quite a few of those players did return home this weekend and have played an important part in their team’s success in the Big Ten Tournament. Whether it was great play during crunch time or the game-winning shot, former Hoosiers definitely felt at home on Thursday.


#8 Michigan 72, #9 Northwestern 70 (OT)

Even though Michigan was the team fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern looked like the more focused team for the majority of the game. Every time it seemed that the Wolverines had seized control of the game, the Wildcats made a run to make it close. Then Michigan would proceed to go on a run to seemingly put the Wildcats away. It was a constant cycle until the Wildcats finally took a 55-54 lead with 3:30 remaining.

Michigan would retake the lead when Derrick Walton Jr. scored his only points of the game as his two free throws put the Wolverines up 56-55. Again it seemed Michigan had taken control when senior center Alex Olah (who had 20 points and 13 rebounds) hit his fifth three-pointer of the season to make Michgan’s lead just 59-58. Then Michigan burned its last two timeouts trying to inbound the ball and when the Wolverines finally got it in to Duncan Robinson, Northwestern trapped him in the corner and forced him to travel. Yet to Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins dismay the referees called a foul instead. Robinson, a 92% free throw shooter, proceed to split the pair and an Olah tip-in with 0.1 seconds left sent the game to overtime.

Yet again it looked like Michigan had put the game away up 72-70 after Zak Irvin’s clutch pull-up jumper from the elbow with three seconds left in overtime. Yet what should have been a game-ending steal on the Wildcats’ in-bound pass turned into a turnover when Walton Jr. stepped on the baseline with 0.6 seconds left to give Northwestern one more shot. Nathan Taphorn was able to get open but the three-pointer was short as Michigan survived, but the Wolverines won’t survive against Indiana if they play like they did today.


#12 Illinois 68, #5 Iowa 66

Iowa’s late-season slump didn’t end when it beat Michigan last weekend, it was merely taking a break. The Iowa team that had lost five of its last seven showed up in full force as the Hawkeyes went one and done in the Big Ten Tournament by losing to Illinois 68-66.

The Hawkeyes got major contributions from their stars as Peter Jok scored a game-high 29 points while Jarrod Uthoff added 21 points. It was the rest team that prevented Iowa from winning back-to-back games for the first time since the first week of February. While Uthoff and Jok combined for 50 points on 19/32 (59.4%) shooting, the other seven Hawkeyes to see the court combined for 16 points on 6/30 (20.0%) shooting and were also responsible for 13 of the team’s 18 turnovers. In fact, the Hawkeyes went 22:18 of in-game time between having a Hawkeye other than Jok or Uthoff score a single point.

Meanwhile Illinois is starting to play up to the potential many have been waiting to see from this team. Former Indianapolis native Jalen Coleman-Lands led the Illini with 17 points, 14 of which came in the second half. The Illini got a big boost early from Maverick Morgan, who had 12 of his 14 points in the first half.

Iowa looked dead with 7:02 left in the second half as the Haweyes trailed 63-52. Yet the pressure to closeout became too much for Illinois as the Illini started playing not to lose instead of trying to win. As a result, Iowa went on a 14-3 run to tie the game at 66 with 1:33 left. A Malcolm Hill 18-footer with 1:15 left proved to be the game-winner as it ended up being the last points of the game. Iowa had multiple chances to tie or take the lead, even getting a jump ball in its favor, but a turnover with four seconds left sealed the Hawkeyes’ fate as they head to the NCAA Tournament having lost six of their last eight.


#7 Ohio State 79, #10 Penn State 75

Yet another Indiana High School standout shined in Indianapolis as JaQuan Lyle finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists as Ohio State was able to fend off Penn State 79-75. Marc Loving led the Buckeyes with 24 points, but it was Lyle who helped Ohio State overcome a 37-34 halftime defecit as he scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half.

Shep Garner led all scorers with 25 points as the Nittany Lions took a three-point lead into halftime thanks to excellent three-point shooting. Penn State went 7 of 12 from deep in the first half, but faltered in the second half by going just 2 of 10. The Buckeyes also accumulated a massive free throw advantage, taking 39 fouls shots to Penn State’s 21.

Ohio State now has a must-win matchup on Friday with the Michigan State Spartans if the Buckeyes want to keep their hopes alive for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.


#11 Nebraska 70, #6 Wisconsin 58

I asked during my Big Ten Tournament Preview if a double-digit seed could win multiple games. The answer is yes as Nebraska joined Illinois as a double-digit seed in the quarterfinals. The Cornhuskers advanced after defeating Wisconsin 70-58.

Shavon Shields led the way with 20 points and just like against Rutgers he had help from the role players. Glynn Watson Jr. (8.4ppg) scored 16 points while Benny Parker (4.7ppg) added 12 points for the Cornhuskers. They also stifled the Badgers offense limiting them to 30.2% shooting on the game.

In addition to shooting a terrible 30.2% overall, Wisconsin only hit 4 of 20 (20.0%) three-point attempts. Vitto Brown carried the Badgers in the first half (13 of the team’s 21 points) but only scored three in the second half. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ led Wisconsin with 17 points (13 in the second half) but also committed a game-high five turnovers. Even the reliable Nigel Hayes had a disastrous game, hitting only 2 of 15 from the floor.

Unlike Iowa, this loss by Wisconsin looks more like a fluke than a sign of trouble, especially considering that the Badgers had won 11 of their last 13 games. Still, that doesn’t take away the disappointment of trying to defend their title of reigning Big Ten Tournament Champions.


Friday’s Games:

#1 Indiana vs #8 Michigan – 12pm EST (ESPN)

#4 Purdue vs #12 Illinois – 2:30pm EST (ESPN)

#2 Michigan State vs #7 Ohio State – 6:30pm EST (BTN)

#3 Maryland vs #11 Nebraska – 9pm EST (BTN)

Minnesota And Rutgers End Season On Different Notes (B1G Tournament Day 1 Recap)

Considering that Rutgers and Minnesota went a combined 3-33 in conference play (with two of those wins coming against each other), it should come as no surprise that the Scarlet Knights and the Golden Gophers were the first two eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament.

What is a little surprising is how differently those two teams played in their losses.


#12 Illinois 85, #13 Minnesota 52

While Minnesota has been the far more competitive of the two (even earning an upset win over Maryland), the recent injury to Joey King along with the suspensions of Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey, and Dupree McBrayer has turned the Golden Gophers into a junior varsity team, with the remaining players losing to Rutgers 75-52 to end the regular season.

It’s hard to have an uglier performance than losing by 20+ points to Rutgers, but the Golden Gophers somehow pulled it off on Wednesday when Illinois literally ran Minnesota off the floor on the way to an 85-52 Illini win. The 33-point scoring margin was more than twice as much as Illinois’ previous largest win of the season (16-point win over Rutgers).

For the Illini it was a great confidence booster for a team that has been mediocre at best this season. What was really encouraging was the three-point shooting as Illinois’ four main perimeter shooters Jalen Coleman-Lands, Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, and Michael Finke went a combined 12 for 20 (60%) from deep. This isn’t just some fluke either as those four players went a combined 9 for 14 (64.3%) went they upset Purdue 84-70 earlier in the season. If the Illini can continue to have those four players shoot above 50% from behind the arc, they’ll have a legit chance to advance on Thursday when they face a slumping Iowa team that has lost five of its last seven games.


#11 Nebraska 89, #14 Rutgers 72

After beating Minnesota to avoid going winless in Big Ten play, Rutgers seemed to have renewed confidence as they gave Nebraska a lot of trouble in the first half. There were 12 lead changes and every time it seemed Nebraska was going to pull away Rutgers had a response.

However, Nebraska’s extra possessions just became too much for the Scarlet Knights to overcome. The Cornhuskers forced 17 Rutgers’ turnovers which turned into 27 points. They also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds as Tim Miles’ team ended up with 14 more field goal attempts than Rutgers.

While Shavon Shields (20 points) and Andrew White III (16 points) did their usual offensive heavy lifting, the Cornhuskers also received huge contributions from role players Tai Webster (18 points) and Michael Jacobson (14 points). If Nebraska wants to have a shot at upsetting Wisconsin, it will need players like Webster and Jacobson to help Shields and White III on offense.


Thursday’s Games:

#9 Northwestern vs #8 Michigan – 12pm EST (BTN)

#12 Illinois vs #5 Iowa – 2:30pm EST (BTN)

#10 Penn State vs #7 Ohio State – 6:30pm EST (ESPN2)

#11 Nebraska vs #6 Wisconsin – 9pm EST (ESPN2)

 

The Ten Biggest Storylines Heading Into The Big Ten Tournament

Originally when I first received my credentials for the Big Ten Tournament, I thought my access was going to be restricted to just the team I cover (being the Indiana Hoosiers). However, after learning that I have access to all 13 games, I decided I may as well cover the tournament as a whole.

For the next five days I will be publishing daily recaps of the day’s events and I will also live-tweet all 13 games. You can follow me on Twitter @QTipsForSports for all the fun.

So before the fun begins, let’s take a quick look at the ten biggest storylines heading into the Big Ten Tournament:

  1. Michigan State Tries To Earn A 1-Seed: During a season of chaos and upsets, Tom Izzo’s squad is as close to a championship contender as any other team in the country. Yet despite having a winning record against the RPI top 25 and 11 wins overall against RPI top 100 teams, the Spartans are far from a lock as a 1-seed. That’s because not only did Michigan State not win the Big Ten, but finished two games behind champion Indiana. A conference championship is really the only thing missing from the resume and the Spartans can still claim the conference tournament championship this week, which should satisfy that last requirement for a 1-seed. Now it’s up to Izzo on whether or not grabbing a 1-seed is worth pursuing.
  2. Indiana Tries To Win Its First Big Ten Tournament: Even though the Hoosiers are tied for the most regular season Big Ten titles (22), did you know Indiana has never won a Big Ten Tournament? Granted the Big Ten was one of the last conferences to adopt a postseason tournament ( the first one being in 1998), but it’s still hard to believe the Hoosiers have yet to win one especially since roughly half of them have been in Indianapolis, which is practically a second home for the Hoosiers. After a 15-3 record against the conference this year, you’d think this would be the year they’d have the best chance to get their first.
  3. Does A Big Ten Regular Season And Tournament Championship Earn Indiana A 1/2-Seed?: Indiana might also need to win the Big Ten Tournament to grab a 1 or 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, which in itself is pretty incredible when you realize this team was very much on the bubble at the beginning of February. Four more wins against the RPI top 50 later and the Hoosiers are almost a lock for a top-4 seed. How Tom Crean’s group does this weekend will determine if they move up even more before Selection Sunday.
  4. Can Either Maryland Or Iowa End Its Late-Season Slump?: While Indiana has seen its stock rise, both Maryland and Iowa have seen its stock plummet over the last few weeks. The Terrapins have lost four of their last six games while the Hawkeyes have lost five of their last seven games. Both have shown to be very talented teams capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but that would likely require them to play well in the Big Ten Tournament to turn momentum in their favor. If either lose right away in Indianapolis, you’d be smart to avoid picking them when filling out your March Madness brackets.
  5. Ohio State And Michigan Both Need Multiple Wins To Help NCAA Chances: Even though Iowa and Maryland have struggled down the stretch, both are locks for the NCAA Tournament. That is not the case for Ohio State and Michigan. The Buckeyes have gone 4-4 in their last eight games while the Wolverines have gone 3-5 in their last eight games. In addition to not finishing the season strong, both have just three wins against the RPI top 100 and a ton of losses (Ohio State has nine vs RPI top 100 while Michigan has 11 vs RPI top 100). With the pool for the at-large bids getting crowded with all of the mid-major conference leaders who lost in their postseason tournaments, the Buckeyes and Wolverines will need to win multiple games during the Big Ten Tournament just to stay on the bubble come Selection Sunday.
  6. Will A Double-Digit Seed Win Multiple Games?: Upsets have been the norm in college basketball this season and some of the more surprising ones have happened in the Big Ten. Penn State has wins over both Iowa and Indiana, Illinois has a win over Purdue, Nebraska has a win over Michigan State, and Minnesota has a win over Maryland. All four of those teams are double-digit seeds and would have to beat teams of similar caliber to win multiple games this week. They’ve all done it before so it’s not out of the question it could happen again.
  7. How Will Wisconsin Respond To Starting The Big Ten Tournament A Day Earlier Than Usual?: Even though Greg Gard didn’t lead Wisconsin to yet another top four finish in the Big Ten, he’s done a great job taking over for Bo Ryan and deserves to be named the permanent head coach. That being said, after years of having off until Friday, how will the team react having to win one extra game? Will the fans remember to come root for their team on Thursday or will they forget out of habit? All joking aside, if the Badgers get to at least the semifinals  they might move up to a 6-seed, which is incredible for a team that had home losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee to begin the season.
  8. Potential Indiana-Purdue Rematch In Indianapolis: There are plenty of great potential matchups in this year’s Big Ten Tournament, but when considering the location of the tournament (Indianapolis) and the likeliness of the matchup (both teams only need to win one game), an Indiana-Purdue rematch becomes the most intriguing. Due to unbalanced schedules caused by league expansion, the in-state rivals are no longer guaranteed to play each other twice a season. Recently both programs haven’t been good at the same time so the lack of a home-and-home likely prevented one team from sweeping the other. That wasn’t the case this year as both are ranked in the AP top 25 and are real threats in the NCAA Tournament which made the fact that they only played once this season a shame. That could be corrected if both win their quarterfinals matchups on Friday.
  9. Which Coaches Are Under Pressure To Perform Well?: Even though only one coach has a realistic chance of being fired after this season (that being Rutgers’ Eddie Jordan), there are still many coaches who will feel the pressure to perform at the Big Ten Tournament this weekend for varying reasons. Richard Pitino of Minnesota has been given a pass for this season, but after the recent suspensions and the loss to Rutgers, there’s definitely some pressure to end the season on a positive note. John Groce was just given a vote of confidence that he will return to coach Illinois next year but if the Illini get destroyed by Minnesota on Wednesday it may make his margin for error even less come next season. Missing the NCAA Tournament won’t put coaches like Thad Matta (Ohio State) and John Beilein (Michigan) on the hot seat but both would like to avoid any unnecessary pressure going forward. Lastly both Fran McCaffery (Iowa) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland) carry the burden of high expectations and with both teams stumbling towards the finish line, you can bet both want to avoid being considered underachievers with their talented squads.
  10. With The Final On Sunday, Could A Team Realistically Win And Cause An NCAA Selection Shakeup?: Did you know that in the history of the Big Ten Tournament, an eighth, ninth, 10th, and 11th seed have all made the championship game? With the Big Ten so top-heavy this year, if an eighth thru 11th seed made the Big Ten title game that would have huge ramifications for the NCAA Selection Committee. While the committee would probably place the eighth seed (who is Michigan) into the bracket regardless of outcome, ninth thru 11th (Northwestern, Penn State, and Nebraska) are nowhere close to being at-large teams and would cause the selection committee to make two vastly different versions of the final bracket in the case of one of those teams winning the Big Ten Tournament. Of course this is true of any year, but considering what has already happened this season, this possibility should not be ignored.

Three Reasons The Hoosiers Are On The Brink Of Winning The Big Ten

The Indiana Hoosiers took care of business on Thursday as they easily defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 74-47 thanks to a dominant second half performance. With the win, the Hoosiers now sit at 13-3 in Big Ten play and are closing in on their second conference championship in four years.

Yet how did a team left for dead at the beginning of December turn things around so drastically?

Here are three reasons the Hoosiers are one win away from clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title and two wins away from winning the conference outright:

  1. Depth: Very few college basketball teams have nine players  who can contribute on a nightly basis and the Hoosiers take full advantage. Combining their breakneck pace with their ability to rotate players in and out keeps their players relatively fresh enough to make a game-ending run when the opponent becomes gassed. It has also helped the team weather what could have been a season-ending injury when James Blackmon Jr. went down right before Big Ten play began. Instead, freshmen OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan have grown up quickly and have provided superior defense along with adequate offense.
  2. Schedule: Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: the Hoosiers had a very easy early Big Ten schedule. This was even more important for the Hoosiers as it coincided with their period of trying to adapt their rotation after the loss of Blackmon. Looking back at a couple of those games it’s almost shameful to think that the Hoosier only beat awful Rutgers by 7 points. But those early games against lesser competition let the Hoosiers make a successful transition while not hurting their record. At the end of the day, you can’t control who you face in your conference and the Hoosiers took advantage of things breaking right for them.
  3. Yogi Ferrell: The senior point guard has been great throughout his entire career at Indiana but this year he has taken it to another level. In Big Ten games this season, Ferrell is averaging 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. On top of that, his defense has reached a level he’s never played at before and it has resulted in 1.31 steals per game in conference play for a player who has never averaged over one steal at any point in his college career. But what’s been the most impressive is his leadership. I only mentioned Big Ten games because those are the games he’s played with Blackmon out of the lineup, showing that Ferrell has stepped up in his absence. Ferrell reinforced the notion that he can carry the Hoosiers when the team needs it by posting 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists against Illinois in a game Indiana was without Rob Johnson and saw Troy Williams play limited minutes due to an injury. In the second half alone, after trailing the Illini 28-27 at half, Ferrell had as many points in the second half (19) as the whole Illinois team. He may not win Big Ten Player of the Year, but Ferrell has arguably been the most valuable player in the conference and is starting to climb the list of greatest Hoosiers of all time.